tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 3, 2010 12:00am-12:30am PDT
tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with tony-winning actress phylicia rashad. after becoming one of tv's most beloved matriarches on "the cosby show," she's gone on to tremendous success on broadway and film. and starting this weekend, you can catch her and an all-star cast in the new tyler perry project "for colored girls." the film is based on the award-winning play that first opened on broadway back in 1976. we're glad you've joined us. a conversation with phylicia rashad coming up right now. >> he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> is everyone making a difference? >> thank you. >> you help it matter.
>> nationwide insurance supports "tavis smiley," with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join travis in removing obstacles one at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by cribbses to your pbs -- contributions to your pbs station, by viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet television.] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- tavis: so pleased an honored to welcome phylicia rashad back to this program. the tony-winning actress stars in a few film from tyler perry called "for colored girls." the movie is based on the award-winning broadway play and features whoopy goldberg, janet jackson, an all-star cast
beyond them. here now our preview of "for colored girls." >> the lyrics, no voices, and performances. brown woman with big legs and full lips. become yourself. >> i've got this for you now. >> i guess this is goodbye. >> like you've never seen it before. tavis: always honored to have you on this program. >> thank you. tavis: last time was in new york. glad you're in l.a. this time. >> yeah. tavis: speaking of l.a., you have a daughter who is also an actress. >> yes. tavis: who is in a wonderful piece, i'm told, i'm anxious to see it myself. tell me about this piece that she's in.
>> she's in the 2009 pulitzer award-winning play "ruined," which takes place in the congo. and this was her first job out of school. she graduated from the california institute of the arts, came home, and within a month, she was cast in this show. tavis: you came out here to see your daughter in part? >> yes. tavis: and how was she? >> oh! tavis: i couldn't expect any other different answer. >> she was wonderful. she was wonderful. the whole cast is wonderful. but i really am -- i am very pleased -- i am very, very pleased. tavis: did you encourage her, discourage her, or neither, given the road that you've traveled in this business? >> well, my mother says i developed her. tavis: uh-huh. >> she was watching me all the time. she was watching me in the discipline of work, you understand, which is quite different than being viewed as a celebrity.
she was watching me in the discipline of work, and i'm told that once in a theatre, in washington, d.c., in fact, when she was 8 years old, she was watching me onstage. and a lady in the audience who didn't know that i was a mother asked her, oh, little girl, you're so pretty, what do you want to be when you grow up? and she said, i want to be a magic lady. and the lady said, oh, you mean a magician? she pointed to me onstage and she said, no, a magic lady like my mother. tavis: and you heard that and it broke you down, didn't it? >> it did. [laughter] it did. tavis: i can only imagine it broke you down when you hear a story like your 8-year-old baby. >> someone sitting next to her told me. when she was 3, she was asking for instructions. when she was 3, she was sitting at the piano and she said, mommy, i need a reading
teacher, a piano teacher, and a dancing teacher. can you get me those things? tavis: at 3. so you knew this was coming. >> yeah. and i was pleased that she was asking for instructions. tavis: as opposed to -- >> as opposed to saying, mommy, can i be in the show with you and anything else. tavis: you said something a moment ago that i want to go back and get. being a celebrity is one thing. the discipline is quite another. >> yes. tavis: talk to me about your discipline, about your religion meant. i -- regiment. i mean, i know you, but even before i got to know you, i would hear the stories about the way you worked, about how disciplined you are, about how committed and dedicated you are to your craft. if ever the word craft applied to someone in terms of how they see their art, it's you. tell me about where your craft is concerned. >> oh, well, hmm. i think it comes from many things. first of all, it comes from the
family which i was privileged to grow. i grew up in a family of people who are from the salt of the earth people. education was very important. and i saw by example that it never stops. so that was the first lesson. never stop learning. never, ever, ever do you imagine that you know everything there is to know. and if ever i felt that way, i would try to do something else. so that was first. then there was howard university. and i learned as a freshman student in the college of fine arts at howard university that there were going to be many football games and fraternity parties that i just was not going to be able to go to because i was going to be in the drama department sewing a seam, moving some scenery, or learning some lines. if this is what you want, this is how it happens.
this is what you must do. it requires everything. and it gets you everything, too. so those things, you know, they will stay with me. that discipline, it's always been there. tavis: i don't think i've ever had a conversation with you -- and i'm not even sure you're aware of this, and maybe you are. but i've never had a conversation on you with tv or radio, where howard university -- you are a proud bison. you are a proud graduate of howard. every time i talk to you, that comes up. i raise it now, because we're living in a world now where there is this growing sentiment that we don't need black colleges or women's studies or what some people call segregated studies. because the world got to know you as this wonderful matriarch on "the cosby show," a show that was based in a black household, but that everybody could appreciate, never mind color, race, origin. everybody appreciated that
show. but you come from a black institution. can you juxtapose those two things for me? >> why wouldn't we need them? why wouldn't we need women's studies? we still have women. tavis: yeah. >> why wouldn't we need this historic institution? that has given us some of the most incredible american people. why wouldn't we need it? why wouldn't we need all those institutions? why wouldn't we need it? why don't we need it? who says that? they better not say it to me. [laughter] tavis: watch clair huxtable get crunk. >> please. don't come in here with that nonsense. yes, we do. one of the most disturbing things that i have heard most recently is that the library in new york city, which is located in harlem, which is one of the most complete repositories of
literature written by and concerning african-american people is to be dismantled. and that those works are going to be placed in various libraries around the city. tavis: the new york public library has been pushing back on that of late. i saw a story the other day where they said of late that's not the case. >> why would such a thing even come up? you're moving it back to when? until when, eight years? 10 years? why would you even consider such a thing? where tuzz that consideration come from? what are you thinking? don't you know that this is a very significant part of american history? don't you know? what are you talking about? that's unpatriotic. i won't have it. tavis: yeah. the argument, since you raised
it, and for those who are probably asking the same question, who said that, and why is that becoming an issue. when you have a historic moment like we are in now, with a black man in the white house as president, that cuts both ways. it's inspiring for a whole lot of people. a lot of us celebrate the fact that it happened. but it also gives the critics ammunition,. if a black man can be president, we don't need to be using any kind of government resources, focusing any attention on stuff just for women, or just for african-americans, or just for hispanics, and that's where that pushback starts to come. >> that's where we as people as citizens of this great nation need to say, wait a minute. i mean, when do we, the people, begin to think for ourselves? when do we begin to read what's
written on the page and understand the implications and the intentions behind it? when do we do that? until we do, we're just going to be led to the left and led to the right and led to the left and led to the right. and we don't really choose a firm direction for ourselves as a nation. ours is such a great nation. so many different kinds of people. it's like the best garden in the world. why would you tear it up? i mean, i guess there are certain things, people hang on to their hatred because if they ever let it go they'd have to let it go with their pain. i know that i'm paraphrasing, but he made a statement like that. tavis: a very good paraphrase. >> so people will always say what they say. people will always say many, many, many things. but somehow, there is that
within this country in the spirit of our american people that knows, first of all, there's room for everybody. which indicates we're going to have respect. we're not just going to tall rate, we're going to respect each other. tavis: there's a difference. >> there is a difference. this is somehow inherent in us as a nation of people. we really do embody this. we really do. because if we didn't, the civil rights movement would never have happened. if it didn't embody this kind of thinking, there never would have been an american revolution to begin with. if we didn't embody this kind of thinking, you couldn't get people who didn't know people in europe to go over and fight hitler. come on, why would we bother? most people over here are not jewish. why would they bother? you know?
as a child, i always believed growing up, and i don't know why, but i always did, i always believed that america was strong because she was good. and that if she ceased to be good, we'd cease to be strong. and being good is working through all of that, which would have us become limited and small and exclusive in our thinking. tavis: i'm going to get to "colored girls," i promise. you keep opening up all these doors. >> i'm sorry! tavis: i keep being led to the left and led to the right. >> i'm sorry! tavis: following you into these various doors. it's a powerful, powerful formulation about america being strong because america is good. i like how you phrase it, not the other way around. strong because we're good, not good because we're strong. so as you're saying this, i'm thinking about you growing up in houston, one of the great
citizens that texas has given us, barbara jordan. >> absolutely. tavis: barbara jordan once said that as americans we all want the same thing. black, white, republican, democrat, we all want the same thing. she said to live in a nation as good as it's promised. that's all we want. so back to your notion of strong and good, i don't think jordan, were she here now, would agree that we have arrived at a place yet where we are as good as we're promised. i don't think we're there yet. that's not even the question, though. the question is is america good? we're not as good as promised. are we still a good nation? i could argue on that all day long. >> i'm sure you could. i'm sure your points would be very valid. when i say the nation is good, i'm saying the nation is good because of what's in the hearts of people. i don't think that what's in the hearts of people is always
represented. i don't think it's always represented in -- i don't think it has always been represented in foreign and domestic policy. i don't think that's what's in the hearts of people is necessarily represented in what some of our corporations do at home and abroad. and the way we become embroiled and entangled in controversy, disputes, and fights to protect american interests. i would say to all of that, every american is american interest. every human heart is american interest. i would say that peace all over the world is american interest. the respect for all peoples is
american interest. and it's in america's interest. that's what i would say. now, maybe that's because i'm just a woman. who happens to be a mother. there's something about being in a delivery room giving birth to people and understanding life in another way. maybe i'm just simple-minded. i don't know. tavis: i'll take it. i'll take it. so we ain't got to argue then. so i don't know how i'm going to segue to "colored girls," because you said three things that i want to go back to. but i have got to get to "colored girls." so my first question is, this is a radical shift if there ever was one. i've seen the play. and i've not yet seen the movie. i'm anxious to go see it. i'm trying to in my mind understand how 12 stories, 12
homes end up becoming a movie. so how does that -- just tell me thousand process works. >> isn't that amazing? tavis: it really is, yeah. >> isn't it amazing that somebody could conceive of such a thing? and then make it happen? and bring it off. now, i like to be accurate in quoting. but i can't remember the exact number that's related to what i'm getting ready to say. but on set one day, tyler was talking about the play for "colored girls." he had seen something like 45 productions of it, different productions of it. i think that's right. he had been studying and watching this play for many years. it wasn't just something he picked up off the shelf on monday and decided to do on
friday. he had been studying this piece. and he spent a lot of time with it. exploring it. how he would develop it. and what he did is create a story in which the lives intersect, and the experiences sometimes overlap. that's how he did it. tavis: and the character you play -- i mentioned earlier this is really an all-star cast. tell me about the character you play in the film. >> i'm gill da. -- -- gilda. i've heard him say that gilda is the woman with all the colors. the character's name, woman in red, woman in orange, woman in blue, woman in green, woman in
yellow, woman in brown. and the film, the women have -- their colors are subtley worn, but they have names, and they have full stories. so it all reveals itself, it makes sense. it's the most incredible -- i should say incredibly ambitious venture ever. in which poetry is going to emerge from prose as part of your dialogue and it's just there. tavis: to your point now, fili -- felicia, what do you hope this film will do for poetry to, you point now? >> oh, it's going to be really interesting, because it's never been done before. and maybe there will be further consideration for what poetry is and what it can be.
it's not called poetry now. it's called spoken word. tavis: it's slams. >> but it's poetry. and this is a beautiful thing too that i love to see and love to talk about. you know, artistic expression is so natural to human beings. it's inherent in our development. before a child can speak, the child is singing. before a child can read, a child is drawing pictures. as soon as a child can stand and walk, they're dancing. it's so natural. until when we see these -- we see this form of education being eliminated from our public education, it's interesting to see how it finds its way. how it will find its way to crunk dancing. how it will find its way to spoken word. how it will find its way to rap. and hip-hop. it's creative energy.
it's a greative urge of every human being. -- greative -- creative urge of every human being. tavis: to your point now about being creative is doing this tv show for so many years, radio show for so many years, i've talked to a lot of people about every journey that every actor has to take if they're blessed as you have been to be on a series where you become iconic because of your association with it. how do you navigate past that to continue to grow and build a career where you don't get typecast? everybody loves and appreciates you as clair huxtable. you will never get away from that and i suspect you're ok with that. >> i'm very ok with that. tavis: that's what i thought. but you've gone on from that to win the tony. you've gone on from that to do the other broadway work. you've gone on from that to films. you didn't get sidelined by that. not everybody in this business is that fortunate, blessed, lucky, you tell me. or creative.
>> you have to know who you are. you know? you have to know who you are, and who i am is a developing actor. that's who i am. and that means that i'll do different things, many different things, and it won't be just one thing. it won't be just one character. it won't be just one kind of character. and if people get stuck in any image, well, you know, they're stuck. but i'm not going to be stuck. it was really quite something, though, to your point, after "the cosby show" ended, i couldn't get arrested for a year. i mean, i wouldn't be seen for a film. oh, no, no, no. wouldn't even be considered for things. just no. after a year had passed, george wolf called me to come in to
jelly's last jam. and i went into jelly's last jam. then another year passed. after that year passed, kenny leon came to new york and extended an offer to me to play angel alan in "blues for an alabama sky." that was a very significant time. because i went to atlanta, i was at the alliance theatre performing in a smaller theatre downstairs, but we were in the woodruff arts center, and i was surrounded by art, by music, by theatre, every single day. it made me feel like i was back at howard university, because that's how it was in the college of fine arts. every day it's there. every single day. all day listening. and it was like a rebirth for me to be just in that
environment so solid like that for three months. after having been on television for eight years, and in a broadway show and having that kind of experience. it's very interesting, you're seen in people's homes all over the world, but you don't see people. tavis: yeah. >> you're isolated in the studio, and then you go home to your family and fried chicken and clean the chicken and go to bed. [laughter] tavis: but you don't see people. >> but you don't really see people. people think you're seeing peopling but you're not really seeing people. tavis: in that first year post-cosby, when the phone didn't ring, after all the success and all the money you made. in the first year, did you think it was over? >> oh, no. no. it was a period of reciprocity. my mother says there must be reciprocity in all things. tavis: even when you succeed. >> and what does that mean really? when have you really succeeded? i'm still working on that.
tavis: phylicia rashad is starring in the new film for "for colored girls." thank you for coming on the show. >> thank you. tavis: my pleasure. that's our show for tonight. keep the faith. >> all these men thinking it's just sex. it ain't just sex, honey. it all has a root. and you got to find that root to pluck it. then you listen to all my business through this wall. i used to be you. >> for more information on today's show, visit "tavis smiley" at pbs.org. tavis: join me for next time of the reaction and analysis of the 2010 elections and the new makeup of congress. that's next time. we'll see you then.
>> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> everyone making a difference. you help us all look better. >> nationwide insurance "tavis" nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station, from viewers like you. thank you.